Mexico ‘community police’ fight cartels’ fire with fire

In the rugged mountains of Guerrero, the most violent state in a Mexico awash in blood, the civilians who have taken up arms to protect their communities often tell a similar story. It goes something like this: “I was kidnapped by a gang, so I decided to fight fire with fire.”
That is how Juan Carlos Ramos, a mechanic, ended up patrolling his hometown with a .22-calibre rifle in his hands and a pistol in a side holster. “The Familia Michoacana (drug cartel) kidnapped me for seven months. They kidnapped my brother for four months,” Ramos, 30, said.
He was freed by the Mexican marines in a raid, and decided to become a vigilante, protecting his town, Teloloapan, from the more than 20 drug cartels and criminal gangs sowing terror in Guerrero.
The southern state registered 2,318 murders last year — the most violent state in a year that set a record for violence in Mexico, with 25,339 murders nationwide. Across Mexico, more than 200,000 people have been killed in a wave of bloodshed that has engulfed the country since the government deployed the army to fight drug cartels in 2006.
Last year, Guerrero also saw 10,000 robberies, 246 rapes and 69 kidnappings. The human suffering behind those statistics is plain to see in the state, where criminal groups terrorise and extort with impunity and there is virtually no trace of a government presence in many areas.
“Most of us just want peace,” said Ramos, who now spends much of his free time patrolling Teloloapan in khaki fatigues, his guns at his side. His brother, Luis Alberto, a 32-year-old trucker, is a member of the community police force too.
Across Guerrero, there are dozens of civilian forces like this one, and more keep appearing as the wave of violence continues. “The Familia Michoacana kidnapped my wife. Then they kidnapped my son,” said Misael Figueroa, 46, speaking in rapid-fire syllables as if someone were chasing him.
Figueroa, a schoolteacher, now doubles as a community police force leader in the village of Apaxtla. He called the rise of such groups over the past two decades a “second revolution” — a reference to the Mexican Revolution of 1910, when impoverished rural Mexicans rose up against a corrupt and faraway government.
“We just want to get back the peace and tranquillity we lost,” Figueroa said as he stood night watch at a lookout post.
Hundreds of self-defence force members like these gathered in the small town of Tlacotepec last month for a sort of vigilante conference.
Toting automatic weapons and hunting rifles, they packed the town’s bullfighting ring and inundated its streets, where the only sign of official law enforcement was a pair of unarmed policemen. — AFP